Are Doctors' Waiting Rooms Making People More Sick?

Conventional wisdom says the best way to avoid getting sick is to stay away from sick people. However, easier said than done when patients need to visit a doctor’s office. Whether visiting your clinic for a routine examination or accompanying someone who’s under the weather, patients enter your waiting room where germs lurk on every surface.

How much responsibility do doctors have to protect their patients from germs that can make them sick or sicker? Clearly, while they’re not responsible for their patients’ hygiene or behavior (most disease-causing bacteria enter the body when infected people touch their eyes, nose or mouth), doctors will likely want to do everything in their power to minimize the spreading of germs in their waiting rooms.

Studies show that Americans wait an average of 24 minutes to see their physicians, but, as both patients and doctors know, emergencies and other unforeseen circumstances can often cause those wait times to balloon to as long as two hours. And that’s a long time for patients, especially children, to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.

There are, however, some steps doctors can take to help patients and visitors avoid getting any sicker.

  1. Keep antibacterial gel dispensers in plain view.
    Patients will utilize these to disinfect their hands, and their children’s hands, after touching objects in the waiting room. Children’s toys, magazines, and doorknobs are the most common items to harbor germs. Office staff should also properly clean waiting room surfaces and toys daily.
  2. Encourage patients to get flu shots.
    Vaccinations are the best defense against the flu. While flu shots do not entirely prevent getting the flu, they do lessen the length and severity of flu symptoms.
  3. Minimize your patient’s time spent in the waiting room.
    Technology is now available that allows patients to virtually check in to a doctor’s office and then receive real-time text messages regarding the precise time they should be at the office..
  4. Encourage patients to schedule wellness visits when the fewest sick people are in the waiting room.
    The winter season, when most people are ill, is the worst time to linger in waiting rooms, so it’s best for patients to schedule routine exams during the spring or summer, when possible. During the winter, try to schedule wellness visits first thing in the morning, before the sickest patients arrive.